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It's a family affair at Upperton Vineyard in Tillington

PUBLISHED: 17:12 15 September 2014 | UPDATED: 17:12 15 September 2014

James Rogers

James Rogers

Kate Eastman

Set within the beautiful national park overlooking the rolling hills of the South Downs is Upperton Vineyard. The land was first purchased by Andy Rogers in 2005 where he planted 800 trial vines.

Vineyard manager and Andy’s son, James Rogers, explains how it all began: “My dad set up the company 38 years ago when he was 15. The first vines were planted in 2005 under the direction of a consultant who had plans for us to make red, white and rosé still wine. Ripening those varieties to make still wine is very difficult in this climate as we don’t get the weather to ripen them fully which leaves acidic wines with little flavours. After a lot of wine tasting during 2005, Dad began to realise that the best wine being made in England was sparkling, with wine from Ridgeview and Nyetimber beating top brand Champagnes in big international competitions. It was mentioned to Dad that Mike Roberts from Ridgeview may be looking for growers, so a plan was formulated to set us up as a grower for Ridgeview and for them to make some wine for us. Mike organised the varieties to plant and in the right ratios.”

In 2009 Jason became vineyard manager and studied a correspondence course run from New Zealand with practical classes at Plumpton College. “My dad, myself and my two sisters Heidi and Sarah run the vineyard. Heidi does the accounts and paperwork, Sarah works on customer sales and relations as well as customers who want tours or have other specific requests. We then have a crack team of vineyard workers who come in and do many of the vineyard jobs. We use the Fruits of Labour team who are based in Arundel. The team only work on vineyards and are trained by our vineyard consultant, Paul Woodrow-Hill who is probably the best man in terms of knowledge and vineyard skills in the whole of the UK wine industry. 
This means the work is done to a high standard,” explains James.

Today Upperton vineyard has 10 hectares where they grow Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, which are the three classic Champagne varieties. They make three variety of sparkling wines, “the Erubesco is a light and fruity rosé. The Nebula is soft on acidity and has a lot of fruit flavours as it has a lot of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier which give it dark fruit flavours as well as some brioche flavours from its ageing which appeals to people who aren’t that keen on Champagne and find it quite austere. The Aurora has a lot more Chardonnay than the Nebula and so is more Champagne-like, which appeals to people who really like Champagne. It also has citrus notes due to the Chardonnay,” says James. “We are releasing our Blanc de Blanc later this year which has had some extra ageing time as it is solely made from Chardonnay and benefits from the softening of acidity that happens during ageing, as well as the fruit and brioche flavours developing.”

Upperton made 15,000 bottles last year. “The vineyard produced enough grapes to make 50,000 bottles last year but as we want to sell all our wine locally we had 15,000 made and sold the rest of the grapes to Ridgeview for their wine. We want to sell it locally so that we can have the interaction with the consumer that supermarkets can’t offer. It’s a large part of Dad’s dream to have his family work so passionately together with all the tours and tastings being conducted by one of the family members,” explains James. “The hardest wine to make is the Erubesco as you need to make red wine from the Pinot Noir Preécoce which is then blended with a white wine made from our Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Making sparkling wine is the only time you’re allowed to blend finished red and white wines together. All still rosé has to have the grapes fermented together. This gives the wine a different character, as the sparkling rosé can achieve deeper fruit flavours from the red wine. The wine that takes the longest to age is our Blanc de Blanc and our first vintage will be released in 
September of this year. It takes longer for the acidity of the Chardonnay to settle and for the flavours develop but it’s definitely worth it.”

The vineyard’s 2009 Nebula won a commendation award at the Decanter World Wine Awards. “They are the biggest wine awards in the world and thousands of wines are entered so that is a big accolade. We built on that with our 2010 Nebula, which won Bronze. Our Aurora 2010 was 23rd in the Judgement of Parsons Green, there are hundreds of wines entered but only English sparkling wine versus Champagne so we beat many Champagnes to be 23rd!”describes James.

The family plans to expand the sales of wine to local people and local establishments. “The sales to gastro pubs in the local area are very successful. It’s now popular enough to sell by the glass in many places, which is brilliant, as sparkling wine need to be consumed 24 hours otherwise it goes flat. We also sell our wine from Cowdray Farm Shop, Hennings Wine Merchants and The General Wine Company as well as the English Wine Centre in Berwick.”


Upperton Vineyard, Tillington, Petworth, West Sussex GU28 0RD, 01798 343695; info@uppertonvineyards.co.uk

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